Nutrition Health & Fitness

What is Essential Fatty Acids?

What is Essential Fatty Acids? – Fatty acids are the main components making up fat. Essential fatty acids are types of fatty acids that can not be produced by the body, but are needed. Therefore, consumption of foods containing essential fatty acids is very necessary to be done routinely.

There are two types of essential fatty acids, namely omega-3 and omega-6. Both are polyunsaturated fatty acids. As we already know, polyunsaturated fatty acids are a type of fat that is good for health.

Unlike other types of fatty acids, essential fatty acids can not be made by our body, but we really need. Both omega-3 and omega-6 have their respective functions in maintaining a healthy body.

Benefits and Sources of Essential Fatty Acids

1. Omega-3

Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that is well known for its health benefits. There are three types of omega-3s, namely eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), docosahexanoic acid (DHA), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).

Here are the various benefits of omega-3 for the body:

  • Maintaining heart health by increasing the amount of good cholesterol (HDL), lowering triglyceride levels, lowering blood pressure, and preventing the formation of plaque in blood vessels.
  • Helps maintain mental health and reduce symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
  • Supports brain and eye development in the unborn fetus and in infants who are in the breastfeeding period.
  • Prevents inflammation which is the cause of various chronic diseases.
  • Prevents senility and helps maintain memory.
  • Maintaining bone health.

Naturally, omega-3 can be obtained by eating oily fish, such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and herring. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that every adult consume 2 servings of oily fish every week as a source of omega-3s.

Apart from fish, omega-3s can also be obtained from plant foods, such as vegetable oils, flaxseeds, dark green leafy vegetables, and walnuts and hazelnuts.

A study shows that omega-3s obtained from supplements are not as effective as omega-3s from natural sources in reducing cholesterol and triglyceride levels. In addition, taking omega-3 supplements also has the risk of causing excess omega-3 which can cause bleeding.

2. Omega-6

Another type of essential fatty acid that is less commonly heard is omega-6. Even so, these essential fatty acids have functions that are no less important for health, namely:

  • Reducing the risk of heart disease.
  • Reducing bad cholesterol (LDL) and increasing good cholesterol (HDL).
  • Reducing the risk of cancer.
  • Helps maintain blood sugar levels by increasing the body’s sensitivity to the hormone insulin.

Natural sources of omega-6 are sunflower oil, sunflower seeds, corn oil, olive oil, safflower oil, and pumpkin seeds.

Omega-6 was once feared to have a bad impact on health because one of the main fatty acids in this group, namely linolenic acid, is very easily converted by the body into arachidonic acid. Arachidonic acid can form molecules that cause inflammation. However, further research shows that only a small amount of linolenic acid is converted by the body into arachidonic acid.

Omega-6 is still needed by the body to maintain a healthy heart and other organs. The recommended ratio of omega-6 and omega-3 consumption is 4: 1. If your proportion of omega-3 intake is much smaller than omega-6, then you need to increase your consumption of omega-3, instead of reducing your consumption of omega-6.

Essential fatty acids are very important for health. However, because these types of fatty acids cannot be produced by the body, you need to consume them regularly, both from food and supplements. If you choose to take essential fatty acid supplements, you should consult with your doctor first, especially if you have a history of bleeding.

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